by Lisa Ruth, editor, Donne Tempo Magazine
Milwaukee, WI…You can almost hear it …. 5,6,7,8 schlemeel, schlamazel…
Milwaukee, beer capital of the world, home to the Fonz (who is now immortalized in bronze) and culinary destination.
Yes. Culinary destination.
Laverne and Shirley would have pined for a “swanky date” at Mason Street Grille, located in the downtown Milwaukee Pfister Hotel. And they would not have been disappointed. We weren’t.
The Pfister Hotel, which is nothing short of a Victorian masterpiece, has been a city landmark since opening in 1893. Today the property enjoys accolades as a Historic Hotel of America and a Preferred Hotels.
Recently renovated, the building features Blu, a top floor martini and wine bar and The Mason Street Grill restaurant. It is here, at the Mason Street Grill, that world-travelers and Milwaukee natives blend together as, on any given night, guests will include globe-trotters, high-power CEO’s, professional athletes, couples, families, and your next door neighbor.
The Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Approaching the property, the smell of the wood-burning stove heightens your senses, promising delectable cuisine and an inviting atmosphere.
Mason Street delivers on that promise, giving guests a wonderful all-around dining experience. Quite simply, Mason Street Grille is perfect. In Milwaukee or anywhere else, this formula works.
Well-known Illinois architect Mark Knauer and Mason Street chef Mark Weber worked together in designing a space that is warm and relaxed, but also beautiful and well appointed. Their motto, “Slip into someplace a little more comfortable” fits exactly.
The two Mark’s wonderfully melded stylish relaxation with gastronomic success. It looks, smells, and feels wonderful.
From the welcoming bar area – complete with leather chairs and a fireplace – to the cozy dining area with dining counter looking in to the open kitchen, every aspect of the restaurant invites you to sit down, stay awhile, enjoy.
The restaurant offers three separate but integrated dining experiences. The main dining room is bathed in soft but abundant lighting and features warm yellows, reds, and oranges. Guests are seated in soft booths or comfortable tables in an open dining area where they can see the kitchen, but they are removed from the hustle and bustle of cooking and serving.
Three separate dining rooms in the rear of the restaurant are even more private, and allow for large groups or parties. Our favorite seating option is the counter, which allows complete interaction with the chefs, servers, and other kitchen staff as they prepare dishes in the active, entertaining, and very visible kitchen.
The “peninsula,” a unique, rounded end of the counter where parties of four can sit at the counter but face each other and enjoy the feel of sitting at a table, is (in our opinion) the best seat in the house. Chef Weber, his sous chefs and the servers actively engage counter-sitters in conversation as they prepare and serve.
Chef Mark Weber
While the ambience is outstanding, the real gem of Mason Street is the food. Chef Weber – an incredibly gifted, personable, and interesting chef – has created an impeccable menu of upscale comfort food inspired, he says, by childhood visits to the local Howard Johnson’s.
While HoJo’s may have provided the initial flash of idea for the menu, Chef Weber’s high-quality ingredients and interesting laering of flavors creates dishes far removed from those deep-fried staples, but he successfully retained the “comfort” part of comfort food.
He garnered additional food insight from his father, a Ph.D. in chemistry at French’s, who taught him combination and deconstruction of food.
The Mason Street Grill, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The centerpiece of Chef Weber’s kitchen is his wood stove. Everything that is grilled at Mason Street is cooked in the wood and charcoal stove, giving it an amazing earthy, smoky, flavor.
Chef is as particular about his ingredients as he is about his cooking methods. He uses only beef from Premium Gold Angus Single Cross cows, making his beef absolutely superb. He favors local-grown, organic produce when possible, and has forged relationships with several local producers to ensure fresh, top quality.
The menu offers bountiful choices for all appetites. For light fare, the menu highlights several main course salads, including a Seared Ahi Tuna with mirin dressing, avocado, and mango ($18.50) and the Mason Street Chopped Signature Salad ($12.50).
You can also order the Mason Street Burger – voted one of the best in Milwaukee – served with honey glazed onions muenster cheese, and special relish ($11.95) or a Lake Perch Sandwich ($12.75).
For a full dining experience, we suggest an appetizer (or two), a salad, and one of the outstanding entrees. The Fried Surf Clams ($10.25), a house specialty, are served in a paper cone over French fries. Unlike other fried clams, they are light and flavorful. And addicting. The Smoked Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Gruyere Oven Fired Flatbread ($9.50) combines sweet, creamy, and smoky into a delectable flatbread. We strongly recommend the Mason Street Grill “Chopped Salad” with house dressing ($8.50). For entrees, our top selection is the 18oz Choice Bone In ribeye ($39.50) flavored with a delicate rub to further enhance the flavor of the top quality beef. We also recommend the 28 Day Dry Aged 16oz New York Strip ($45.00) for a slightly more full taste. If the Walleye is available, order it. Chef serves it lightly breaded and lightly fried.
We also love that all entrées include the salad and a choice of a side. The Delmonico Potatoes and the Creamed Corn are outstanding.
The Mason Street Grill Open Kitchen
Finish with Chef Weber’s famous Carrot Cake, a rich, sumptuous take on the standard, topped with syrup and cream cheese icing.
Mason Street also has a tremendous wine selection and interesting specialty drinks, including a Five-Fifteeni (Van Gogh Raspberry Vodka, shaken with Malibu rum, Cointreau, splashes of Pinapple, Cranberry, and Orange Juices, topped with Champagne, $14.00) and the Espresso Martini (Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka, shaken with Bailey’s, Godiva, a shot of espresso, served in a chilled glass, $12.00).
Two stand-out wines are the Ballentine Chenin Blanc and Decoy red blends.
Mason Street Grill is an absolutely exceptional restaurant. Sit anywhere, eat anything, talk to anyone…you will leave happy and full, and, we guarantee, you will go back.
Mason Street Grill
Chef Mark Weber
425 E. Mason Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
The Pfister Hotel
424 East Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 273-8222
Fax: (414) 273-5025
Once a Milwukee resident, writer Lisa Ruth really enjoyed her revisit to this great lakefront city. Check back with Donne Tempo Magazine in January for “Lakefront Sisters — A visit to Lake Michigan’s Twin Cities - Chicago, Il and Milwaukee, Wi.)